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Pence v. Kaine: The social media scorecard for the VP debate

US vice presidential candidates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence traded barbs, constantly interrupted each other, and defended their running mates in their only debate. Social media had a lot to say about it.

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Image: Getty / CNET

This article was originally published on CNET.

While not as splashy as their presidential counterparts, Hillary Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine and Donald Trump's running mate Mike Pence faced off Tuesday in the only vice presidential debate of the election season and within 10 minutes, prompted campaign watchers to tweet out more than 56,000 comments using the hashtag #VPDebate.

A calm Pence earned more favorable responses from Twitter followers compared to the combative Kaine, according to social media monitoring groups Brandwatch and Spredfast. Pence had 1.5 million mentions during the debate, with more than 58 percent of them positive. Kaine had more than 1.2 million mentions, with a 52 percent negative sentiment, Brandwatch said. Those tweets aren't a measure of who won or lost the debate, but rather a show of which candidates' supporters are more vocal on social media.

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"From my months of political observation, I would say Trump's online supporters — who are among the most loyal I've ever witnessed (considering brands and politicians) — are rallying behind Pence," said Kellan Terry, a Brandwatch data analyst.

The stakes were high for Kaine and Pence. Heading into Tuesday's clash at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, the two veep candidates are overshadowed by Clinton and Trump. But the question is whether those sharing their opinions and observations on social media actually care about Kaine and Pence?

The answer: not really.

"Social media acts as an echo chamber," said William Stodden, a political science professor at North Dakota State College of Science and Concordia College in Minnesota. "Real-world events drive interest in social media outlets of the candidates, as voters see something and then rush to social media to both inform themselves and discuss the event, and then the discourse on social media is used by politicians to drive their campaign."

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Image: Twitter / Jason Hiner

After a polite exchange after being introduced by moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News, the candidates' gloves came off early. Kaine, a Democratic senator from Virginia, was expected to keep up Clinton's momentum after many concluded the former Secretary of State beat Trump during their first debate last week. The presidential debate on Sept. 26 was the most watched and most tweeted presidential debate ever, according to TV ratings data from Nielsen.

Kaine told Pence Tuesday that "You are Donald Trump's apprentice," adding, "I cannot imagine how Gov. Pence can defend can defend the insult-driven, selfish need for style of Donald Trump."

But, Pence, Indiana's Republican governor, downplayed Kaine's remarks and sidestepped questions about Trump's crazy week. That week included an early-morning Twitter tirade against a former Miss Universe and Clinton and reports that the real estaste mogul may have lost a billion dollars in a year to "brilliantly" avoid paying income taxes for the past 18 years, according to a report by the New York Times on Oct. 1. The NYT story spawned the hashtag #LastTimeTrumpPaidTaxes.

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"The American people want to see our nation standing tall on the world's stage again," Pence said.

The latest CBS News poll found that voters know little about either VP nominee and that neither candidate is viewed favorably by voters who do have an opinion. Twenty-four percent of voters have a positive opinion of Pence, while Kaine is viewed favorably by 19 percent of voters.

Before Tuesday's debate, 47 percent of voters said they didn't plan on watching the VP candidates spar.

That lack of interest was reflected on social media. The rate of conversation about the VP debate on social media was significantly lower than the first presidential clash, Spredfast said. About 30,000 people discussed the debate on Twitter, compared to nearly 80,000 who commented during last week's meet up between Clinton, 68, and Trump, 70.

Early on during the 90-minute debate, 18- to 24-year-olds were driving most of the debate conversation on Twitter, Spredfast said. The most discussed issues on Twitter were the economy, taxes and terrorism, the group added.

Midway through Kaine and Pence's appearances, sentiment on Twitter was more negative than even the first presidential debate, Spredfast said.

Pence gained more than 22,000 new Twitter followers compared to 15,000 for Kaine. Trump, as expected, tweeted out that his running mate won hands down. Twitter said that was the most retweeted comment.

Even so, the fact that Pence was mentioned more than Kaine doesn't reflect who won, Stodden said. There still will be plenty of fact-checking and polling for days to come.

"We can tell that there is definitely interest in both of these candidates," Stodden said. "Polls indicate that people usually do not pay a lot of attention to the VP debate. Perhaps this year, as with so many other issues, the status quo is changing."

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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